Keys to the Game presented by: Key Bank

KeyBank Five Keys: Cavaliers at Celtics, Game 2

Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE/Getty Images
by Joe Gabriele Managing Editor

Key: Road Warriors

We’re one game into the Eastern Conference Finals and the Cavaliers still haven’t lost a game in the 2017 Playoffs, running their winning streak to 12 straight – one victory shy of the NBA’s all-time mark – with a 117-104 win on Wednesday night.

That victory wasn’t much different than Cleveland’s most recent regular season win at the TD Garden – jumping out to a big lead and flummoxing the Celtics the rest of the way.

Cleveland’s starting frontline was dominant – combining for 90 points and 30 rebounds as the Wine and Gold improved their Playoff record to 33-4 against Eastern Conference squads since 2015, including a 16-3 mark on the road over that span.

In beating Boston for the fourth time in five tries this season, the Cavaliers once again opened up at least a 20-point lead – running their advantage to 26 points at intermission and leading by as many as 28 in the third. The Celtics mounted a mini-rally to end the third quarter, but these aren’t the same Cavaliers from the end of the regular season, and Kyle Korver’s triple to start the fourth followed by four straight free throws from LeBron snuffed out their Game 1 comeback hopes.

The two clubs square off for Game 2 on Friday night with history on Cleveland’s side – owning a 17-1 series record when going up, 1-0, and having never lost a series when leading 2-0 (14-0).

Key: Extended Periods of Reign

Nine games into the 2017 Playoffs and we have no idea at what point LeBron James is in his career. While most of his peers and Draft classmates have settled into the back nine, James only seems to be getting better – as quoted by Celtics coach Brad Stevens after Cleveland’s Game 1 win.

LeBron notched his seventh straight 30-point game in the victory – a 38-point, nine-rebound and seven-assist effort, his 68th career contest of at least 30, 5 and 5.

On the night, LeBron was 14-of-24 from the field and 9-of-11 from the stripe – completely controlling the tempo and wearing down – by some counts – eight different Celtic defenders in the process.

Even if the Celtics can figure out how to improve on the glass or get Isaiah Thomas warmed up, they still don’t have an answer for the King – and if Kyle Korver, J.R. Smith or Channing Frye start heating up from outside, that task will get even tougher.

Jae Crowder, who started off on James, had a solid night offensively – leading the Celtics (along with Avery Bradley) with 21 points on 8-for-13 shooting, including 4-of-6 from long-range.

Key: Stairway to Kevin

Now well into the postseason, it’s safe to say that Kevin Love has had his best year since joining the Wine and Gold in 2014.

He’d been relatively quiet through the first two rounds, but insisted that he was good with whatever offensive role he was assigned as long as the team kept winning. But on Wednesday night, Love was the aggressor – notching 11 of his Playoff career-high 32 points in the second quarter and adding 18 more in the third.

On the night, Love finished 9-for-16 from the floor, including 6-of-9 from long-range and 8-of-9 from the stripe – leading both teams with 12 boards. It was Love’s third double-double of the postseason.

The man who saw his first Playoff run as a Cavalier ended at the TD Garden has had a good groove against Boston all season – averaging 25.8 points and 12.8 boards in four games (regular season and Playoffs) – shooting .447 from beyond the arc with a .933 mark (28-of-30) from the stripe.

Amir Johnson is a ceremonial starter for the Celtics and saw just four minutes of action on Wednesday. Kelly Olynyk, who shot Boston into the ECF with a big Game 7 against Washington, returned to Earth on Wednesday night – going 1-for-6 from the floor off the bench.

Key: Glass Cleaner

The Cavaliers had a distinct rebounding edge over the Celtics during the regular season and through the first three quarters on Wednesday night, that trend continued – outrebounding Boston, 28-14, at intermission and 33-26 heading to the fourth. Overall, the Cavs starting frontline outrebounded the Celtics’, 30-17.

Kevin Love led everyone with a dozen – LeBron and Tristan Thompson added nine boards apiece.

Like Love, Thompson notched a Playoff career-high in scoring, finishing with 20 points on a perfect 7-for-7 shooting – becoming the only player in Cavs history to hit at least seven field goals without a miss in a Playoff game.

Thompson has been quiet on the offensive end in the 2017 postseason; Wednesday was just his second double-digit scoring performance despite shooting .593 from the floor. But he’s been a beast on the boards – especially the offensive glass, where he’s grabbed 45 of his 94 total boards this postseason.

Double-T has grabbed at least five offensive boards in five of the Cavs’ nine Playoff games, including six of Cleveland’s 12 in Game 1.

Boston’s starting center didn’t get off to a great start in the series, with Al Horford finishing with just 11 points on 4-for-11 shooting. He and Jae Crowder snagged eight boards apiece, with rookie Jaylen Brown leading the Celts with nine.

Key: Star-Crossed

Cleveland knows that if it can stop or slow down Isaiah Thomas, they can control the series.

Boston’s two-time All-Star put up three 30-point games against the Wine and Gold during the regular season, but the Cavs kept him completely off-balance in Game 1 – holding the sixth-year guard to just 17 points on 7-for-19 shooting, including 2-of-7 from long-range. Tyronn Lue’s squad also did an excellent job of keeping him off the line, holding him to just three free throws on the night.

Thomas did manage to lead both teams with 10 assists, but overall he barely made a dent on the contest in Game 1.

After heating up in the fourth quarter of Game 4 in Toronto, Kyrie Irving cooled off from the floor on Wednesday night in Boston – going just 4-of-11 from the floor for 11 points. Irving was solid on the defensive end however, finishing with two steals and a block, while handing out six assists.

Uncle Drew has had some big nights in Boston over his career and the prolific scorer from Duke is poised to find his rhythm and go on a scoring barrage at any time.